Video Games are really fascinating as an art form. They can be totally removed from all of the other aspects that many of the arts depend on. They can be devoid of characters, narrative, music and totally freed from the boundaries of logic and still connect and inspire us - or simply be mega fun. However, in recent years - certainly within the sphere of triple A game development - games have increased their efforts towards representing our world as we see it.
Certainly we have huge tech armoured machines along with jet packs and such, but it's all grounded by the realities and restrictions of our planet and bodies. Video games are trying to replicate the work of films in an interactive way and a lot of gamers have real issues with it - mainly because they more than often fall short of the medium that they're intending to replicate. Games don't need anything that films have in order to work. Destiny is an interesting example, simply due to the fact that its story is non-existent garbage, yet still has so many followers and fans because the gunplay is ridiculously excellent.
The Last of Us 2 & The Future of Story in Video Games
The Last of Us occupies a completely alternate space. It exists in the sphere of emotional interaction, in that Naughty Dog created a world with characters that feel real - we can connect with the very human struggle of Joel and Ellie. They rely on cinematic techniques and tropes to connect with gamers on ways that cinema does with movie-goers. In some form it can be restrictive, because a game can move you in a unique manner that other forms just can't. Take a look at Journey for example.
However, The Last of Us is still probably one of the best examples of this form of game development as, in my opinion, it balanced its gameplay with the narrative extremely well. The only unfortunate aspect about The Last of Us' reliance on story was that you never impacted upon it. You just had to defeat the enemies that the story throws at you and then it would pick up once the room was either cleared or escaped from. It's not really a game you can just hop into and enjoy blasting through - but then it never wanted to be that kind of experience.
That being said, I never felt like Naughty Dog's cinematics interrupted my enjoyment of the game, though I understand that many players were dissatisfied by the level of concentration that the developer put into its story. Some gamers don't like story-focused games - that's cool - and I agree that for the most part the stories that are praised in games are not on par with the level of quality we've come to expect from films and TV. They're just slightly better than the schlock we've come to accept.
But with The Last of Us, if you were prepared to accept what Naughty Dog were narratively trying to accomplish - far more so than they'd done with the Uncharted series - I personally felt that you could be rewarded by a rather emotional and sophisticated adventure. Yeah, games should focus more on good gameplay. We've seen so many series fail because they tried to make us connect with the half-assed characters they expect us to care about. Looking at you Watch Dogs. Fucking hate Aiden Pearce and everything he stands for in the gaming industry.
But I still feel that there's room for the kind of game that Naughty Dog has grown to develop. A recent podcast by Funhaus (you should totally check them out, they're hilarious) discussed stories in video game culture. I totally agree with their point that little to no one is going to be picking up the next Uncharted instalment to find out what happened to Nathan Drake. We're going to buy that game to see how Naughty Dog can take their astounding, explosive set-pieces to the next level. But in every discussion I've seen of the notion of The Last of Us 2, it has been focused on the story. Every time.
Gamers became emotionally invested in the characters that Neil Druckmann and the team at Naughty Dog created. They're interested to see whether The Last of Us 2 will continue exploring the relationship between Joel and Ellie, or whether it will be a new chapter set within the same universe. I can't think of any other series in which that has happened - we generally don't play games for their characters or story-lines. Most of the time we want a game to gift us a singular experience that no one else was able to replicate, such is the joy of video games. The Witcher 3 is a great example at the moment of a game that lends itself to great discussions between players.
Your decisions impact on the world and alter the storyline in very interesting ways and it's so cool to see how much weight your choices can carry in this particular setting. Already I've had characters die at my hand that others in the office have saved and grown to have more and more interesting interactions with. What other medium can do that as well as games can? That being said, I still think there's room for the likes of The Last of Us in the industry if developed to the standards (and above those) that we've come to accept from Naughty Dog.
I'll be the first guy to complain about the kind of work that Ubisoft and so many other developers out there do with regards to stories in gaming. The Assassin's Creed franchise has abandoned everything it wanted to be at the start with that rather intriguing story. It has abandoned its now convoluted narrative entirely and now cycles us through man after man who loses his father and becomes an Assassin who must fight the bloody Templars. Oh yeah, and the gameplay refuses to become interesting.
But there's room for the likes of The Last of Us 2. They'll improve as the industry develops, and I still think that the likes of Red Dead Redemption is one of the greatest examples of combining a fascinating story with exceptional gameplay. I really didn't like GTA V's story at all, plus it had a woeful ending - but that gameplay! Anyway, that's just me and my rant on the future of story-focused games. What are your inputs on the discussion of The Last of Us 2? Do you think there's room for these kind of games in the future? Let us know!